The Tunnel: A Longhorn Remembers His Final Red River Rivalry


Billy Schott, BS ’83, a former Longhorns placekicker and wide receiver, remembers his final journey through the Cotton Bowl tunnel as a player.

When you’re given the final word from the TV guy to leave the locker room and head down the short flight of steps to the top of the tunnel, you step out into a surreal, confusing world of childish taunts and many an inverted Hook ’em being hurled from the walkway above. Stadium security personnel in cheap windbreakers and several members of the Dallas Police Department man the long, tarp-covered gate behind you. You recognize a couple of the motorcycle cops that led the police escort through the streets of Dallas a couple of hours ago; an officer smiles as he gives you a quick salute and a Hook ’em. You return the salute and mouth a quick “Thank you” to the officer.

You’re told by the TV guy to wait at the top of the ramp. There’s no breeze—it’s hot.

Someone steps out of a black limo just outside the gate and is quickly escorted by Texas DPS troopers through the gathering and hurried down the ramp. Must be the governor or a senator or Willie—you can’t really see over the glare of all the glistening white helmets shining in the October sunshine.

The smell of diesel fumes, horse crap, and fried food wafts through the air, mingling with the sulfur smell of residue from the RUF/NEKS’ shotguns and Smokey’s pregame cannon shots. You can always smell the State Fair.

The ticketless, orange-clad well-wishers behind the chainlink gate, trying to get a quick look from a player or coach, are the only friendly voices you hear at that end of the Cotton Bowl.

“Get after ’em, Darrell!”

“Go Horns!”

“Anybody got a ticket?!”

“Can I have your chinstrap?”

No “OU Sucks” chants—these are the days before that sentiment became the norm.

Strangely, above the yelling, the dull din of bus engines, police motorcycles, and the screaming siren from a ride over on the midway, you can hear the clicking of the candy-wrapping machines in the salt water taffy booth just across the walkway beyond the gate.

You’ve been taught to keep your focus, to look toward the light at the bottom of the tunnel as you move slowly downhill. You’re wedged so tightly together that your feet are barely touching the ribbed, dirty concrete below. It’s like you’re slowly floating down the ramp suspended among your fellow team members. You’re in the shade of the tunnel now, beneath the stomping, screaming Sooner fans in the south end of the stadium. It’s cooler, but you’re having trouble catching your breath.

You can’t help but steal a glance at your opponents as they assemble and begin to move down the ramp on the opposite side. You’ve seen them all through pregame warmups, exchanged subdued good luck wishes to a misguided former high school teammate who wandered across the Red River, but suddenly, this instant is etched forever in your mind. The crimson helmets with the white interlocked “OU” really piss you off at this moment and the bile rises in the back of your throat. You feel like you might lose your steak and scrambled eggs you ate four hours before in the quiet banquet room at the Hilton Inn. You don’t want to puke on your facemask—or on your teammate’s back.

Instead of letting the remnants of your pregame meal fly, you choke it back and begin to yell out an unintelligible guttural sound. Your teammates join in and the sound reverberates in your helmet. Your mouth is dry, your chest is pounding. All of a sudden, your uniform is too tight. A huge groundswell of noise engulfs you as you move closer to the light, louder and louder. You’re glad you have your helmet on, not because you think that one of those over-served, jeering Okies will lob a half-eaten Fletcher’s Corny Dog at you, but you feel secure and impervious when you manage to reach your hand up and snap your chinstrap snugly as you move into the sunlight at the bottom of the ramp. You realize then how much you’ve been sweating as the swirling breeze on the floor of the stadium finally gets to the back of your neck and cools you ever so slightly.

The roaring sound echoing in your helmet reaches a crescendo as the TV guy tries to hold back your screaming, snarling teammates. You look around and the sudden reality hits you: This is it. This is the last time you’ll ever experience this feeling as a player in what you have grown up knowing to be the greatest football contest in the universe. You may get a chance to walk the ramp again, but not wearing this uniform, with these guys, against those guys.

Tears well in your eyes, a huge lump rises in your throat as you begin to hear curses hurled at the TV guy to let you go, just let us run out on that crappy turf one more time. You hear the TV guy yell something about the World Series game being nearly over and to hold on for just one more minute, and one of your larger teammates instructs the TV guy to perform a physically impossible task with a baseball.

You and your teammates surge forward, frenzied and frothing. You look toward Coach Royal, who has appeared just to your left—he looks to be alone in his thoughts. His jaw is set. He has to hear the taunts of “Traitor!” directed his way. You feel more contempt for the red-clad fans leering over the tunnel walls as they wave red and white pom-poms at your coach’s face. You wish the woman would fall over the wall as she screams, “Darrell, you ain’t sheeyit!”

He is perturbed at the delay. He gives a simple nod and the human dam breaks. The TV guy is left to fend for himself. He may have been trampled, but you don’t really care at this point. Smokey sounds out a huge cannon blast, a perfect smoke circle rises above the sweltering field. You imagine a football sailing right through the center of the white smoke circle as you see it emblazoned against the clear, blue North Texas sky. You hear the band playing “Texas Fight” at what seems like an impossibly fast tempo and an ungodly loud volume in your helmet. You run. Your teammates are jumping all over you. You may cry.

You aren’t alone.

The swelling noise is louder than ever and you get to run out into that sunlight one last time. You’ll never get to feel this way again.

Artwork by Melissa Reese. 


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